• Interconnected technological risks: Responding to disruptions of cyber-physical systems

    When infectious diseases strike, the World Health Organization acts swiftly, coordinating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its foreign counterparts to contain the threat. But there is no equivalent international organization similarly dedicated to identifying and mitigating a cyberattack. The World Economic Forum (WEF), however, is bringing together infrastructure and technology developers, insurers and government officials from across the globe to develop strategies for responding to interconnected technological risks, including those that can cascade when hackers disrupt cyber-physical systems.

  • 2018: Critical period of intensified risks

    The Global Risks Report 2018, published this week by the World Economic Forum cautions that we are struggling to keep up with the accelerating pace of change. It highlights numerous areas in which we are pushing systems to the brink, from extinction-level rates of biodiversity loss to mounting concerns about the possibility of new wars. The reports says that the structural and interconnected nature of risks in 2018 threatens the very system on which societies, economies, and international relations are based – but that the positive economic outlook gives leaders the opportunity to tackle systemic fragility.

  • 2017 saw the highest ever sea level on the Dutch coast

    The average sea level measured on the Dutch coast was higher than ever before in 2017. The Dutch sea level, the averaged measurements from six tide stations, rose to 11 cm above Normal Amsterdam Water Level (NAP in Dutch). The last highest measurement was in 2007, when the average sea level was 9 cm above NAP. The fact that the sea level was higher last year does not mean that the sea level is now rising faster. At present, the sea level on the Dutch coast is rising by 20 cm every century.

  • River flood risks increase around the globe under future warming

    Rainfall changes caused by global warming will increase river flood risks across the globe. Already today, fluvial floods are among the most common and devastating natural disasters. Scientists have now calculated the required increase in flood protection until the 2040s worldwide, breaking it down to single regions and cities. They find that the need for adaptation is greatest in the United States, parts of India and Africa, Indonesia, and in Central Europe including Germany. Inaction would expose many millions of people to severe flooding.

  • 2017 climate, weather disasters in U.S. totaling $306 billion — a new record

    2017 will be remembered as a year of extremes for the United States as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, fires, and freezes claimed hundreds of lives and visited economic hardship upon the nation. The average U.S. temperature in 2017 was 54.6 degrees F (2.6 degrees F above average), making 2017 third warmest year in 123 years of record-keeping. The five warmest years on record for the United States all have occurred since 2006. In 2017, the United States experienced 16 weather and climate disasters each with losses exceeding $1 billion, totaling approximately $306 billion — a new U.S. record. Far more tragic was the human toll. At least 362 people died and many more were injured during the course of these disasters.

  • Studying climate effects on California water systems from headwaters to groundwater

    To address future climate change effects on water resources, scientists at five UC campuses, and Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories, will study California’s water systems, from the headwaters in the Sierra Nevada, through rivers, reservoirs and groundwater in the Central Valley. The project will allow scientists to examine hydrologic sensitivities of California headwaters and agricultural demand to changing climate and will consider plausible societal adaptations.

  • With storms intensifying and oceans on the rise, Boston weighs strategies for staying dry

    As this year’s hurricanes marched across the Caribbean into the Gulf Coast or out to the North Atlantic, cities along the U.S. northeastern coast knew they were dodging bullets. If Boston gets hit by a storm like Hurricane Harvey, mayor Marty Walsh acknowledged in a radio interview, “we are wiped out as a city.” An MIT analysis suggests that a Category 1 hurricane with a few feet of surge on top of a high tide could flood a quarter of a million Boston residents. And climate change is bringing more intense storms and rising tides. A multi-billion-dollar seawall is among climate adaptation options under consideration for the iconic coastal city.

  • Innovative smart grid technology solves decades-old problematic power grid phenomenon

    Picture a teeter-totter gently rocking back and forth, one side going up while the other goes down. When electricity travels long distances, it starts to behave in a similar fashion: the standard frequency of 60 cycles per second increases on the utility side of the transmission line while the frequency on the customer side decreases, switching back and forth every second or two. This phenomenon — called inter-area oscillations — can be a problem on hot summer days when the demand for power is high. Sandia National Laboratories and partners have demonstrated a control system that smooths out these oscillations using new smart grid technology. Sandia’s controls use real-time data to reduce inter-area oscillations on western grid.

  • Self-healing microgrids to help keep isolated Cordova, Alaska, cope with disasters, cyberattacks

    Cordova, Alaska, is in a far-flung nook of Prince William Sound. There are no roads connecting Cordova with the rest of the world. The only way to get there is by plane or boat. The city’s electrical grid is also isolated; there’s no physical connection to the outside world. The situation is compounded by harsh weather and a mix of hydroelectric, diesel and solar power generation, with a seasonal consumer demand that changes significantly throughout the year. In the event of a major natural disaster, such as the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, Cordova might be completely cut off. A system of microgrids would enhance grid resilience by maintaining and restoring power after a catastrophic event or a cyberattack.

  • The Texas coastline is slowly disappearing. Here's how one community is coping.

    The Lone Star State’s shoreline is experiencing one of the highest rates of land loss of any coastal area in the country thanks to a combination of subsidence, sea level rise, and storm surges. The significant land loss averages 4 feet per year along the state’s coastline, according to the Texas General Land Office. In some places, more than 30 feet of shoreline disappears underwater annually.

  • An X-factor in coastal flooding: Natural climate patterns create hot spots of rapid sea level rise

    Many scientists have found evidence that climate change is amplifying the impacts of hurricanes. For example, several studies just published this month conclude that human-induced climate change made rainfall during Hurricane Harvey more intense. But climate change is not the only factor making hurricanes more damaging. A recent study showed that two converging natural climate processes created a “hot spot” from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina to Miami where sea levels rose six times faster than the global average between 2011 and 2015. We also showed that such hot spots have occurred at other points along the Eastern Seaboard over the past century. Now we see indications that one is developing in Texas and Louisiana, where it likely amplified flooding during Harvey – and could make future coastal storms more damaging. Accelerations in sea level rise are hard to predict, and it is unclear whether they will become more serious over time. But they make it even more urgent for coastal communities to take sea level rise seriously today.

  • Humidity may intensify heat stress to a point exceeding human endurance

    Climate scientists say that killer heat waves will become increasingly prevalent in many regions as climate warms. However, most projections leave out a major factor that could worsen things: humidity, which can greatly magnify the effects of heat alone. Now, a new global study projects that in coming decades the effects of high humidity in many areas will dramatically increase. At times, they may surpass humans’ ability to work or, in some cases, even survive.

  • The geology and resources of 23 minerals critical for the United States

    It would be no exaggeration to say that without minerals, no aspect of our daily lives would be possible. From the high-tech devices we use to access the information superhighway to the cars and trucks we use to drive the freeways, from the urban jungle to rural farms, every aspect of our lives relies on minerals. Thus, access to sufficient supplies of these minerals is a crucial part of keeping our economy and our security running. In a new collection of articles, USGS geologists provide the latest on the geology and resources of twenty-three mineral commodities deemed critical to the economy and security of the United States.

  • Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters on the rise

    from 1980 to 2017, the United States has sustained 218 weather and climate disasters in which overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including CPI adjustment to 2017). The total cost of these 218 events exceeds $1.2 trillion. This total does not yet include the costs for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Between 1 January and 6 October 2017, there have been fifteen weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. The 1980–2016 annual average pf weather events with losses exceeding $1 billion each is 5.5 events (CPI-adjusted); the annual average for the most recent 5 years (2012–2016) is 10.6 events (CPI-adjusted).

  • Alaskan microgrids offer energy resilience, independence

    The electrical grid in the contiguous United States is a behemoth of interconnected systems. If one section fails or is sabotaged, millions of citizens could be without power. Remote villages in Alaska provide an example of how safeguards could build resilience into a larger electrical grid. These communities rely on microgrids — small, local power stations that operate autonomously.